To happy coincidences and unexpected synergies
There has been an overwhelming response to my last blog about Nesta's Randomised Coffee Trials, with responses received from various countries, UK government bodies, multilateral organisations, academics, NGOs, small companies and multinational companies.
In this post, I try to pull together some of the highlights from those conversations as well as flesh out some of the characteristics that made RCT successful.
This is part of a series of blogs that we have brought together around the idea of serendipity. In the first blog, Jon Kingsbury tells the story of how the two of us came up with and implemented Randomised Coffee Trials at Nesta. In the second blog Pedro Medina discusses how to make the most of serendipity in our day-to-day lives, from elevators to buses. In the third blog of the series, Sebastian Olma shares some insights into his current work in the field of serendipity.
Some highlights from this week's exchanges:
- Not just for large groups: A small company (10 staff) wrote about their experience divided across two floors, highlighting the negative impact that the stairs had on the relations between staff. They now intend to attempt to adapt RCT for their context.
- The impact of space: Kerstin Sailer at UCL suggested undertaking Social Network Analysis of these types of initiatives, a before and after snapshot of the connections between staff. Her expertise lies in workplace environments and the relationship between spatial structure and behaviours.
- Integrating new members to a team: Giulio Quaggiotto from UNDP Bratislava Regional Center shared a book chapter he co-wrote A Network Approach to Onboarding where the importance of building network relationships during the onboarding process of new hires was highlighted to ensure they can quickly become productive and effective.
- Developing skills to interact with strangers: Adam Kaasa at the LSE Cities Program explored several adaptations of RCT across various contexts from cities to groups with a shared interest. One of the most interesting points that emerged was around how such initiatives play a role in developing an important 'skillset' for people in speaking with others around them.
- Randomised lunch: There were several comparisons with an initiative in the US called Lunch Roulette which randomly pairs people up for lunch. It was highlighted just a couple weeks ago in the Harvard Business Review.
- Serendipity as a business model: Sebastian Olma (see guest blog) shared his book Serendipity Machine, (a quick and easy read that I highly recommended) a case study of how seats2meet.com is transforming social capital into financial capital through collaborative workspaces.
- Slow-speed networking: Many have seen similarities between RCT and speed networking; however there are fundamental differences in terms of speed and iteration. RCTs give individuals time to enjoy and honor the other person they are meeting; there isn't a rush to discover in under 5 minutes whether it is worth continuing the conversation. Furthermore, by having weekly RCTs, they become part of everyone's routine, permitting more natural encounters and more long term effects for the organisation and the staff than a one-off speed networking event would have.
Considering that at the heart of innovation is seeing an existing problem in a new light, initiatives like Randomised Coffee Trials promote innovation in at least three ways 1) creating spaces of reflection, 2) encouraging encounters with the unexpected 3) developing the practical skills of sociability.
The broader ambition should be to explore how these skills of interacting with strangers may extend to practices in other parts of our lives, from speaking to neighbors, people seated adjacent to us on our public transport commute and in queue at the cinema. Reflecting over RCTs' effect of bringing people together in unexpected ways to engage with each other in un-prescribed ways, I'm reminded of Barry Schwartz's discussion of how rules are creating a loss of wisdom.